Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Little Big News: Agatha Nominations

The Agatha Award nominations have been announced.  Winners will be crowned at Malice Domestic in the spring.  Congrats to all!

Best Short Story
"Double Jinx: A Bellissimo Casino Crime Caper Short Story" by Gretchen Archer (Henery Press)
"The Best-Laid Plans" by Barb Goffman in Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional (Wildside Press)
"The Mayor and the Midwife" by Edith Maxwell in Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016 (Down & Out Books)
"The Last Blue Glass" by B.K. Stevens in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine
"Parallel Play" by Art Taylor in Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning (Wildside Press)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Slay Belles, by Marilyn Todd

"Slay Belles," by Marilyn Todd, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

Ever drive past a small store with some strange specialty and wonder: "How do they stay in business?"

Marilyn Todd has a helpful suggestion: Maybe they are money launderers!  Get a place with a lot of customers (even if they are tourists who don't actually buy much), and a cash-heavy inventory, and the taxman won't suspect a thing.

Or such was the discovery of sisters Hannah and Lynn who have deep roots in British organized crime.  Their year-round-Christmas store, The North Pole, is doing just fine, cleaning up dirty money from various family businesses.

But the sisters have a special sideline.  The store has Santa's Mailbox where kids can ask the fat man for help.  And while Hannah and Lynn can't promise the latest video game or a pony, if the request is desperate they may be able to offer a special solution...

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Little Big New: The best stories of 2016, says Edgar

The MWA has just announced the nominees for the Edgar Awards.  Chngrats to all.  Here are the short story finalists:

"Oxford Girl" – Mississippi Noirby Megan Abbott (Akashic Books)
"A Paler Shade of Death" – St. Louis Noir by Laura Benedict (Akashic Books)
"Autumn at the Automat" – In Sunlight or in Shadow by Lawrence Block (Pegasus Books)
"The Music Room" – In Sunlight or in Shadow  by Stephen King (Pegasus Books)
"The Crawl Space" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazineby Joyce Carol Oates (Dell Magazines)


And the Robert L. Fish Award winner for best first story:

"The Truth of the Moment" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
by E. Gabriel Flores (Dell Magazines)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Little Big News: The Best stories of 2016, says me.

Over at SleuthSayers I list the 13 best mystery stories of the year, culled from this page, of course.  Two are from the book at right.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Motive, Opportunity, Means, by Mark Bastable

"Motive, Opportunity, Means," by Mark Bastable, in The Thrill List, edited by Catherine Lea, Brakelight Press, 2016.

Congressman John Fuller left his wife for his secretary.  Said wife did not take it well.  Now she has plotted an elaborate revenge, and Fuller's future depends on the shrewdness and determination of an overworked cop named Pinski who just wants to spend some time with own wife. 

If this description sounds a little sparse, you are right.  I don't want to give away any of the secrets of this marvelous, convoluted plot.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Formula, by Jerry Kennealy

"The Formula, by Jerry Kennealy, in 44 Caliber Funk, edited by Gary Phillips and Robert J. Randisi, Moonstone Press, 2016.

There are some good stories in this book but I have to say: the manuscript should have danced the Hustle one more time with a copy editor.  Spellchecker doesn't catch missing words or spot  when characters  names suddenly change.

Moving on to Kennealy's story: It's 1970.  Private eye Johnny O'Rorke has been hired to find an actress.  Susan Jeffers vanished with a few scenes left to film in a Western which is already snake-bit, seeing how the first star killed himself.

The movie producer is philosophical, which is not the same as being resigned:

"It used to be so simple.  We had a formula: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back."
He brought his hands together ina loud snap.  "Now its boy screws girl, girl gets gangbanged by thugs, boy kills thugs, girl decides to become a lesbian."

Which is not exactly what has happened to the actress.  But her fate is a long way from formulaic.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Projectionist, by Joe R. Lansdale

"The Projectionist," by Joe R. Lansdale, in In Sunlight or in Shadow, edited by Lawrence Block, Pegasus Books, 2016.

A warning: this is not a collection of crime stories, per se.  The connecting thread is that they are all inspired by paintings of Edward Hopper.  No doubt that this story is about crime, though.

The narrator is a projectionist at a movie theatre.  He's naive and not that bright - one character calls him a "retard" but that's not fair.  The job is okay, and then Sally arrives.  Sally is an usherette, and beautiful.

Sounds like we are building up to a classic noir plot, but that's not quite the way it happens.  Instead the theatre gets a visit from The Community Protection Board, a bunch of shakedown artists who threaten the theatre and Sally.

But they underestimate our hero.  He's seen some bad times and knows some bad people.  And soon the Protection Board may need protection...

I must say that of all the stories this one felt most to me like a Hopper painting.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Wait, by Flávio Carneiro

"The Wait,"  by Flávio Carneiro, in Rio Noir, edited by Tony Bellotto, Akashic Books, 2016.

Bear with me.  This may get a little philosophical at the start.  We will get to the story.

 I would like to suggest that some fiction really is genre fiction and some uses genre fiction.  Wears it like a cloak to cover what is really going on.  And that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Jorge Luis Borges' brilliant story "The Garden of Forking Paths" is about a spy doing spy things.  But is it a spy story?  Not exactly.  Is George Orwell's Animal Farm a fable or a political satire that uses the fable form?

Okay.  Getting to this week's favorite.  A beautiful woman walks into the office of a private eye.  Sound familiar?

Detective Andre has an office in downtown Rio.  Marina wants him to find a man.  Again, still familiar.

But now the ground shifts under us a bit.  All she knows about the man is that he has been following her every day for weeks. Now he has stopped and she wants him to start again.

Andre and his sidekick, Fats - or is Fats the brains of the operation? - set out to find the guy.  Much philosphizing occurs.  Roland Barthes is invoked.

The place where what we might call experimental fiction - those cloaked-in-genre things - tend to fall apart is the ending.  Some of these authors seem to take pride in not writing the last page, leaving you wondering what happened and why you bothered to read the damned thing.

Carniero is not guilty of that.  I found his ending quite satisfactory, as was the whole story.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Land of the Blind, by Craig Johnson,

"Land of the Blind," by Craig Johnson, in The Strand Magazine, October 2016 - January 2017.

It's Christmas Eve and Walt Longmire, sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, is on his way to a hostage situation.  A crazy druggie wearing only underpants has burst into a church and is pointing a gun at a woman's head, mumbling about God demanding a sacrifice.

And while Walt is the series hero the title clues you in that the star of this particular rodeo will be his deputy Double Tough, who lost one eye to a fire.  I won't tell you what happens, but it's very satisfying.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Toned Cougars, by Tony Bellotto

"Toned Cougars," by Tony Bellotto, in Rio Noir, edited by Tony Bellotto, Akashic Books, 2016.

I have been known to complain about these Akashic Press books, specifically that the editors sometimes don't seem to know what noir is.  No complaints about this story (which happens to be written by the book's editor).  It follows the formula perfectly.

Our protagonist is a fortyish beach bum who makes his living romancing older women.  His latest conquest, if that's the word, is older than his mother, but he finds himself falling in love, much to his discomfort.

Turns out she has a wealthy husband she doesn't much care for.  Turns out she thinks our hero could solve that problem for her.

And if you have read any noir you may suspect it won't end with champagne and wedding cakes.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Played to Death, by Bill FItzhugh

"Played to Death," by Bill FItzhugh,  in Crime Plus Music, edited by Jim Fusilli, Three Rooms Press, 2016.

Decades ago I was privileged to hear a panel featuring Stanley Ellin, one of the great authors of mystery short stories.  He declared that stories about murder should not be funny.

During the Q&A I reminded him of his story "The Day the Thaw Came to 127," in which (spoiler alert) the frustrated tenants of a New York apartment building burn their landlord for fuel.

"Well," he replied, "That was wish-fulfillment."

I bring that up because today's story falls into the same category, I think.  Bill Fitzhugh worked in radio before turning to comic crime novels.

Grady, the main character of this story, is one of those guys who tells DJs what they are allowed to play.  Specifically the fewest number of songs they can play over and over and over.  He confronts somebody who is not fond of that format, but does speak Grady's language. 

"You know how it works," the man said.  "We had a good sample of the demographic we're trying to appeal to and we asked what they wanted, and this is what they said.  We're just giving them what they asked for."
"Which is what?"
"Bad news for you, I'm afraid."

 Did I mention the somebody has a gun?

I won't reveal what else happens. Tune back in after the news and sports.
  


Sunday, November 27, 2016

1968 Pelham Blue SG Jr, by Mark Haskell Smith

“1968 Pelham Blue SG Jr.” by Mark Haskell Smith, in Crime Plus Music, edited by Jim Fusilli, Three Rooms Press, 2016.

I tried to resist this story.  I really did.  This led to a loud argument in my head.

-It's not a crime story.
-Of course it is.
-It's not a conventional crime story.
-So?
-But it's weird.
-So?

Quality won out.


Here's what makes it makes it weird: When was the last time you read a story written in first person plural?

You may say "A Rose for Emily," the masterpiece written by William Faulkner. But that story essentially has a standard third person omniscient narrator with just occasional uses of "We" to remind you that this is the community's viewpoint.

In Mark Haskell Smith's story, on the other hand, "We" is very much the main character.  They are (It is?) an over-the-hill rock band, so meshed together that they speak as a unit.  It's a shock when one of the members thinks about quitting and suddenly shifts from "one of us" to "he."

After a gig the band's equipment (including the titular guitar) is stolen but "we couldn't call the police because one of us was supposed to be home with an ankle monitor strapped to our leg."  

So they go off  in search of it.  But single-minded they ain't.  When the hunt takes them to a donut shop the rings of fat and sugar so mesmerize them they forget what they came for.  "We are not detectives," they explain, primly.

No, but they are hilarious.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Long Black Veil, by Val McDermid

"The Long Black Veil," by Val McDermid, in Crime Plus Music, edited by Jim Fusilli, Three Rooms Press, 2016.

Jess lives with relatives because, a decade ago when she was four years old, her mother murdered her father.  That's the official story, but it turns out the truth is a lot more complicated.  "There are worse things to be in small-town America than the daughter of a murderess," says her caretaker.  "So I hold my tongue and settle for silence."

McDermid is a Scottish author but she writes well about "small-town America."  This is a story about privileged rich kids clashing with folks from the poor side of town.  Also about teenagers trying to figure out who they are and coming up with answers that may not please their neighbors. 

I enjoyed this one a lot.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Attitude Adjuster, by David Morrell

"The Attitude Adjuster," by David Morrell, in Blood on the Bayou, edited by Greg Herren, Down and Out Books, 2016.

This story reminds me of a classic by Jack Ritchie, "For All The Rude People."  Both start a  guy getting ticked off at inconsiderate folks and deciding to fix the problem.  The solutions they come up with are very different, and of course, that's the wonderful thing about fiction: two writers can take the same idea in two wildly different directions.

Morrell's star is Barry Pollard and what he likes to do is beat up rude people; put them in the hospital.  He figures this attitude adjustment is good for people and they ought to be grateful for it.  So one tipsy night he puts an ad on the internet offering to punish anyone who is suffering from a guilty conscience. 

If you are brighter than Barry - not a high bar - you can see where that plot is going to wrong, and so it does. 

The victim winds up in the hospital but his wife's best friend, Jamie Travers and her husband Cavanaugh, are in the protecting business and they set out to figure whodunit and whopaidforit. 

My one complaint about the story is that the solution to that last problem feels unearned and a bit week.  But the tale is definitely worth a read.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Caught on Video, by Brian Leopold

"Caught on Video," by Brian Leopold in Fast Women and Neon Lights: Eighties Inspired Neon Noir, edited by Michael Pool, Crime Syndicate, 2016.

The publisher sent me a free ecopy of this book, and rudely, I forgot to mention their name last week.  Thank you, Crime Syndicate Magazine.

Roberto runs an appliance repair shop in L.A. in the 1980s.  That means occasionally a redfaced customer presents a video camera with a tape stuck in it.  He or she wants it back but does NOT want Roberto to watch it. 

And so he gets another amateur sex tape for his collection. But things get even better when he finds a way to profit off this sideline.

Ah, but an illicit sex act is not the only that can get recorded by a video camera, and inevitably, that's what happens in this twisty tale...

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Widowman, by Matthew Hockey

"Widowman," by Matthew Hockey, in Fast Women and Neon Lights: Eighties Inspired Neon Noir, edited by Michael Pool, 2016.

The publishers sent me a free e-copy of this book.  And this is Hockey's second appearance in this blog.

As I read through this book I wondered when we would get to organized crime.  Didn't expect it from this direction, however.

Aki is the widow of a Tokyo mobster. One day, through the carelessness of the widowman who brings her her monthly allowance, she discovers that her murdered husband had had a  mistress.


The fact that she was angrier about the sex than she was about the death spoke volumes about her messed-up value system,  she knew that - it didn't mean she could do anything about it, other than pencil it in with her therapist.
 
A nicely structured story with plenty of surprises and suspense.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Stone Soup, by David Edgerley Gates

"Stone Soup," by David Edgerley Gates, in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, November 2016.

This is the fourth appearance by David Edgerley Gates in my Best-of-the Week list, the first since he joined me on the SleuthSayers blog.


It is also the second appearance here for Mickey Counihan, who works for the Hannahs, an Irish crime family in 1940s New York.  Mickey describes himself in this story as "muscle," but he's being modest.  I'd call him a fixer, running some low level schemes, and looking out for the family's interest.  Here is Mickey describing the status quo:

We'd made peace with the capos, the money my kids brought in from the numbers racket was steady, wagers at the racetrack books were up, sin was paying off on our investment.

But sin was the problem facing a guy named Hinny Boggs, who asked Mickey for help.  His wife's second cousin, Ginger, was pregnant and unwed.  Worse, she wanted to keep the baby.  Much worse, the father was Monsignor Devlin, the cardinal's right hand man. Which meant Ginger had to vanish before she wound up in much worse trouble than just being in trouble.

She doesn't need a white knight, though.  Just a black hat like Mickey, willing to pull in favors and negotiate deals with some of his personal enemies for a woman he's never met. 

My one complaint about this story is that Gates under-utilized the metaphor in his title.  As I recall, in the old tale it took a whole village to make stone soup, which is relevant to the events here.

Very satisfactory piece.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

When You Wish Upon A Star, by Colin Cotterill

"When You Wish Upon A Star," by Colin Cotterill, in Sunshine Noir, edited by Annamaria Alfieri and Michael Stanley, White Sun Books, 2016.

This book ends on a high note with its third appearance in this column.  

Our protagonist is a former crime reporter, now reduced to covering social events for the local weekly in the area she moved to for family reasons.  When a well-off woman dies in a  bizarre car accident - crashing off an unfinished bridge over a river - the reporter suspects that the death was no accident.

Nice setting but what really made it for me was the motive, which is an utterly modern get-rich scheme I have never seen in crime fiction before.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Someone's Moved the Sun, by Jeffrey Siger

"Someone's Moved the Sun," by Jeffrey Siger, in Sunshine Noir, edited by Annamaria Alfieri and Michael Stanley, White Sun Books, 2016.

Toni plays piano in a gay bar on an island in Greece.  To pay the bills he (I assume Toni is a he. As near as I can tell, it is not specified) is also an unlicensed private eye.  That means he helps tourists and others get stolen property back.

This time his client is a wealthy man named Kleftis who seems to have lost a backpack. What was in it?  Cash, certainly.  Black market jewelry, very likely.  Perhaps something more sinister than that?

 Toni thinks he knows who may have done it but there are dangers in proceeding:

Perhaps I could entice one of their local gang members into making a side deal, but that ran the very real risk of someone ending up buried alongside the backpack.  Correction: Make that someone me.

A nice modern variation of the classic P.I. tale.




Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Assassination, by Leye Adenle

"The Assassination," by Leye Adenle, in Sunshine Noir, edited by Annamaria Alfieri and Michael Stanley, White Sun Books, 2016.

I can't tell which African country this is taking place.  Probably just ignorance on my part.  Otunba is a big businessman and all-around creep.  Such a creep, in fact, that someone (maybe many someones) want him dead.

We watch as the net tightens around him, but he doesn't see it.  And he just keeps making the world a little worse as he goes his merry way.

This story made my week because of the neat twist ending, which I enjoyed a lot.